Suspect who gunned down Ozone Park Muslim cleric convicted of first-degree murder

Photo courtesy of New York Daily News/Bryan Pace

Jurors convicted a Brooklyn man on Friday of gunning down an Ozone Park imam and his associate as they walked home from a mosque in August of 2016.

Oscar Morel, 37, was found guilty of first- and second-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon following a three-week trial, Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown. Morel faces life in prison without the possibility of parole when he is sentenced on April 18.

Morel shot and killed Imam Maulana Akonjee, 55, and a friend, Thara Uddin, 64, as they walked through Ozone Park following prayers at the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid Mosque on the afternoon of Aug. 13, 2016. The shocking crime, committed in broad daylight on a Saturday, outraged the Bangladeshi community in south Queens, prompting for calls that the homicide be considered a hate crime.

“This was a senseless act of gun violence in the middle of the afternoon and carried out in a close-knit neighborhood filled with families and children,” Brown said in a March 23 statement. “The defendant’s actions caused immeasurable grief — not only to the victims’ families, but the slaying struck at the heart of the Muslim community of Queens. I am hopeful today’s verdict will bring some closure to the family and many friends of the two men killed.”

Law enforcement sources said Akonjee and Uddin had just concluded prayers at the mosque and were walking at the intersection of Liberty Avenue and 79th Street just before 2 p.m. on Aug. 13, 2016. There, they were confronted by Morel, who pointed a .38-caliber revolver at their heads and began firing.

Akonjee was hit four times in the head and body, while Uddin was struck in the head. Video cameras caught footage of Morel exiting from an SUV and approaching the two men, then moments later running back to the vehicle and fleeing the scene.

Officers from the 106th Precinct and EMS units rushed to the scene. Akonjee and Uddin were rushed to Jamaica Hospital, where they later died.

A few minutes after the murder, Brown said, Morel struck a bicyclist with his vehicle at the intersection of Pitkin and Pine Avenues in City Line, Brooklyn. Nearby security cameras again spotted Morel fleeing the scene following the collision.

Police said that a good Samaritan, who saw the incident, followed Morel in his own automobile to get the license plate, which was subsequently presented to police.

Cops later located the vehicle in East New York, Brooklyn, staked it out and saw Morel approach and enter it at about 10 p.m. the following evening, Aug. 14.

“Detectives from the Fugitive Task Force Unit approached the car, and then he rammed the detectives’ car several times in an effort to get away,” NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said after Morel’s arrest. “He was placed under arrest without any further incident and brought back to the precinct for more debriefing.”

Detectives also searched Morel’s apartment, after obtaining a warrant, and found the .38-caliber gun used in the double homicide hidden behind a kitchen wall.

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